Discovering the work of Tor Lundvall has been something of a revelation. The prolific ambient musician and painter has released nearly 20 albums in the last 20 years, both independently and via Dais Records, yet I only heard of him last month when the single 'Quiet Room' was released from his new vocal-led album A Dark Place. Luke Turner of The Quietus described it as "the sweet spot between Talk Talk and Slowdive's underrated Pygmalion" – my interest was immediately piqued.
Digging back through Lundvall's discography unearths a very deliberate, consistent aesthetic. Each release tends to be themed around a sense of place, our relationship to nature, the weather or a time of day (e.g., Rain Studies, The Park, Night Studies, The Shipyard). A Dark Place, though notably nocturnal in feel, is more of a metaphorical place – the space one enters alone while reflecting upon our mortality. It's no surprise to learn that the album was influenced by the recent loss of Lundvall's father.
While his ambient albums create a lovingly rendered instrumental space for exploration on headphones, A Dark Place features Lundvall's vocal musings front and centre. He emotes in a mesmerisingly neutral tone, which creates a curious effect. His vocal presence is the focus on each of these eight tracks, yet his delivery and lyrics seem to do everything they can to slip into the shadows so the music can do the talking.
The music itself is typically beautiful for a Lundvall album, with plenty of focus on weighty, looped figures that exhale eerie reverb trails. Befitting a vinyl release it works well as a two-sided experience. Side openers 'Quiet Room' and 'Negative Moon' feel like companion tracks with their insistent bass pulse. At its conclusion, side A feels like it's fading away with 'The Invisible Man', while side B ends on a more hopeful note with the beautiful, lilting 'The Next World'.
Listening to several of Lundvall's previous instrumental albums while waiting for this release felt like stumbling upon a treasure trove, each release fully realised and deeply emotive. My expectations for A Dark Place were high. While there's an undeniably compelling atmosphere to this release, the vocal focus means there's less space for Lundvall's immersive environments to work their magic. As a result, the listener is left in a state of suspension, pulled between the worlds of ambient and downtempo pop. Nonetheless, this release is a grower – and a worthwhile introduction to Lundvall's immense discography.
[A Dark Place is available as a digital download via Bandcamp, and on vinyl from Dais Records.]